Monday, 19 September 2011


Men praying on Patrick Street, Cork
Friends are made at the Cork International Short Story Festival. And writers of stories gain new, enthusiastic fans. As readers our horizons are expanded outwards. This year there were war stories (Siobhán Fallon); a 9/11 story set in Dublin (Kathleen Murray) which will be in the special NY edition of The Stinging Fly; a heartbreaking story of one man's loneliness from Mary Costello (I will never forget her character Gus - poor Gus);  a story of bereavement which sang with humour from Valerie Trueblood; and on and on into many other wonderful and weird worlds.

I had a few duties: I interviewed Valerie Trueblood; I was on a panel discussing story anthologies (see pics in previous post); and I introduced Valerie and Yiyun Li's Friday night reading. It's always an absolute pleasure to be involved and I thoroughly enjoyed all of it. My interview with Valerie was enlightening - she has such original ideas about the short story. I encourage you to read her essay 'What's the Story? Aspects of the Form' here.

Apart from being a fantastic writer and essayist, Valerie is also a really nice person. We emailed each other in the six weeks prior to the festival in preparation for the interview (a lot of which can be found here - Elizabeth Murray live-blogged the festival). Valerie came bearing gifts: a limited edition of Eudora Welty's first published story, 'Death of a Traveling Salesman'; a book for my kids about a mouse called Whitefoot; and a bread cloth, woven from natural cotton by her friend (how did she know that I bake?!). It was so sweet of her and I was touched.

The bread cloth
On Friday night, Yiyun Li read extracts from her 90 page story 'Kindness', which was partially inspired by William Trevor's novella 'Nights at the Alexandra'. Li is a huge Trevor fan and she said it was the voice of that work that inspired and influenced her, as well as its aching loneliness. Yiyun sang in the course of the reading, a thing I always think is wonderful when writers do it. Brave.

Valerie Trueblood read her story 'Trespass' which is about a heart doctor grieving for his Russian girlfriend Katya who recently died of a heart condition. The story is also about marriage breakdown, infidelity and suspicion. It's moving and funny and Valerie read it brilliantly. People were stunned when it emerged afterwards that this was her first public reading. Ever.

I won't recount the discussion on short story anthologies because, again, Elizabeth has blogged it here. And let it suffice to say that Colm Tóibín (surely the most fluent and affable man of letters in the world?) and Edna gave impeccable readings. The house was packed for that one and Edna got a standing ovation afterwards, which was nice. She looked regal in black and she read her story 'Old Wounds'; her voice was clear and hypnotic; she read enthusiastically and convincingly.

Every evening we adjourned to the Boqueria for wine and tapas and I caught up with friends made online and at previous visits to the Cork Festival, including writers Tania Hershman and Alison MacLeod. Alison gave a great reading from her BBC National Story Prize shortlisted story, the astonishing 'The Heart of Denis Noble'. Listen to the story here (only until tomorrow) read by Tim Piggott Smith who, someone remarked, 'sounds like God' (he does!). You can also buy the story here along with the other shortlisted stories. The winner of the £15,000 prize will be announced next Monday the 26th September. I, of course, want Alison to win. Her story really is remarkable and I loved hearing from her how it all came about. She will be in converstion with the man she based the story on, the biologist Denis Noble, at Small Wonder next weekend.

I managed my annual trip to Café Paradiso (nom-nom). And to the Crawford Gallery and its equally nom-nom-ish café, with Órfhlaith Foyle, FOC shortlistee Suzanne Rivecca and my husband. Suzanne is so physically like one of my heroines, Frida Kahlo, that I wanted to stick skull earrings in her ears and flowers in her hair, to complete the look. She says she has been taken for Mexican before but not necessarily Frida. Suzanne is currently on a year-long residency in Rome to write a novel. Aren't the Americans generous to their writers? Arts Council take note.

Re-release of To The World of Men, Welcome - paperback & expanded

Alan Hayes of Arlen House also gave me my ten author copies of the paperback and newly expanded edition of my second short story collection, To The World of Men, Welcome. Excitement! Giveaway shortly, so watch this space!

There is only one thing wrong with the Cork International Short Story Festival and that is it is EXHAUSTING! Everywhere I went there were yawning, hollow-eyed writers, sipping coffee and sneaking off for power naps between events. You need stamina and we all pulled energy from somewhere in our enthsiasm for readings and discussions and dissections of all we had heard.

The festival is to be congratulated for being a fearless supporter of women writers. Women dominated both the readings and the Frank O'Connor Award shortlist. It is so refreshing and it means that I get to meet the most talented, sweetest women writers around.

It's very hard to blog a whole festival afterwards. You want to tell everything but you can't because a) long blog posts are annoying, and b) it's impossible to remember it all, even with a notebook stuffed with scribbles. I hope this has captured a little of how great it was and that you story lovers might think about going to Cork next September when it will happen all over again.

See the Irish Times and The Examiner for good coverage of Edna's win. Congrats to Patrick Cotter, Jen Matthews, the board of Munster Lit and their team for pulling off another great festival. It gets better and better and better. Well done, all.


EMC said...

Sounds fab Nuala, wish I had had the chance to be there! Maybe next year. Best, E.


Beg, borrow or steal, E, to get there next time. It really is fab.

Órfhlaith Foyle said...

A great post, Nuala. You are right it is hard to manage to remember all that happened.It was a brilliant experience and it was fun!


Fun and exhausting, Ór!

shaunag said...

A brilliant post, Nuala. I will defo be there next year. Sounds intriguing and you've also introduced me to some women writers whose publications I will now seek out! Thanks, Shauna


Well, your book will be out by then Shauna so maybe you will be there as an invited reader. Let Munster Lit know you are available :)
N x

Insinbad said...

Wonderful review of the festival babe. I filled my head, heart, stomach and boots at the Cork Short Story Festival 2011. That's all I can say.


See, there are benefits to being married to me :)

M.Costello said...

Nuala, it was just lovely meeting you and Finbar, and thanks so much for the kind comment on Gus! It was my first time at the festival and yes, it was great. You caught it all here.Best, Mary


Great to meet you too, Mary. And I loved your Edna blog post. We will meet anon, no doubt. N x

Kar said...

Brilliant post Nu! I am drooling and wishing I'd been there. You always meet such great people! I am vowing now not to miss it next year.

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Just one more reason to make it back to Ireland. Now must calculate how many pigs must be sold so this farmwife/writer can book passge. Thanks Nuala for all the great info!


Donna - hope you sell lots of those pigs :)